Follow TV Tropes


Unhappy Medium

Go To

"Imagine there was a door to the realm of Daemons, and the slightest inattention on your behalf would see them batter it down and rip you to shreds. Now imagine that door is inside your head. That is what being a Psyker is like."
Castus Lupa, Savant Adjunct, Warhammer 40,000

A subtrope of Blessed with Suck where possessing Psychic Powers really has a bad effect on your personal life, one way or the other. Oftentimes, people just can't get over the fact that you can brainwash them into living automatons, overload their brains into vegetative comas if not outright death, and rip apart a truck with little effort.

Almost every instance of The Empath is this, as empathy generally sucks as a power and really only has the effect of making your life miserable. A powerfully evil disturbance in the force can send you falling to the floor with a bloody nose, a powerful ghost will take over your body far more easily than a muggle, and the power itself can drive you mad either from the knowledge it brings or temptation it carries.

And of course, being able to see ghosts / hear thoughts means you either lie to everyone you know about it (and good luck having a successful date when ghosts show up to bug you, or your date thinks horrible things about you), or are open, thus facing public ridicule, private rejection, being labeled insane or experimented on by the government.

We don't talk about seeing the future... But! — this sucks, too. Even if you avoid accusations of bringing about the misfortune you foresee, it will probably do a number on your health. And it's quite possible that no-one will believe you, anyway, so all your sufferings will be for nothing.

See also A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • ×××HOLiC revolves around Watanuki, one of the few people able to see the myriad of supernatural phenomena that exist in the universe. Unfortunately, said supernatural phenomena are also powerfully attracted to him. Having to constantly fend off creatures that other people can't even see has not had a good impact on his life.
  • Chrono Crusade:
  • Mao from Code Geass fits this trope perfectly. Out of all the Geass users in the series, he is undeniably the most damaged and miserable; his mind-reading power puts him in so much pain that fans are actually divided over whether to loathe him completely for his cruel treatment of the heroes or feel sorry for him.
  • Hisoka Kurosaki of Descendants of Darkness describes this trope to a T. His empathy makes physical contact painful, to the point that he can even pass out from the overload of emotions/memories/dreams. His parents started young with the ridicule and rejection bit when they locked him away in the basement as a child only letting him out at night. Of course, this is what leads to his rape and eventual murder at the hands of Big Bad Kazutaka Muraki.
  • The titular character of The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. has access to seemingly every psychic power in the book, but is unable to shut them off, which has resulted in them robbing his life of any surprise, challenge, or sense of accomplishment. This includes being able to hear the thoughts of everyone around him, but unlike some other examples, he has enough mental fortitude that it's simply an annoyance to him.
  • My Hero Academia: All his life, Hitoshi Shinso had to deal with people constantly telling him that his Quirk: Brainwashing, was a scary power and was very suited for being a Villain, despite Shinso actually wanting to be a Hero. He ended up being shunned by his peers as a result because they were afraid that he would use his power on them. To make matters worse, when Shinso finally applied for the hero class at U.A., he ended up failing the entrance exam since the exam is heavily skewed towards those that have powers suited for direct combat, thus relegating him to the general education class and denying him the chance to become a hero.
  • Shion, a shrine priestess from Naruto Shippuden: The Movie is at first glance a brat and a whiner, but in reality, she is this way because all her predictions have come true. So that means everyone she had previously loved or cared for has died, and in order to avoid that from ever happening again, she stopped making friends and connections with others.
  • People with psychic powers in Shaman King risk being isolated and physically hurt by ghosts because of their abilities.

    Comic Books 
  • Satori Deacon in PS238 (explored in issue #18, High Spirits).
  • Lionel Zerb in Rising Stars can talk to the dead. All the dead in a given area. Or rather they talk to him and generally don't shut up. In any given area there might be thousands of dead trying to talk to him. He's only happy when he's taken to a very remote area no one ever died in.
  • X-Men:
    • Jean Grey couldn't control her telepathic powers when she was a child, causing her to develop mental problems. Xavier put blocks on her mind designed to let her grow into her powers gradually. Originally the Phoenix wasn't a cosmic entity, but her full potential, unleashed before she was ready for it by extreme duress. Even before Jason Wyngarde attempted More than Mind Control and found out he really, really shouldn't have, Jean had to constantly fight against With Great Power Comes Great Insanity and was more anti-heroish.
    • There's an X-family foe named The Gamesmaster who is a Charles Xavier-class telepath. He also can't turn it off, ever. He is aware of every thought of every person in the entire world at all times whether he wants to be or not. Needing a distraction from the constant chatter in his head is what drove him to villainy. Having something he can put all of his focus into is what lets him stay sane; unfortunately, running a Deadly Game is what he chose.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Constantine (2005), people with psychic abilities can see demons while they're still children. This tends to get them unwanted psychiatric treatment if they tell anyone what they see.
  • Phony Psychic Oda Mae Brown from Ghost (1990) would rather pretend to perceive dead spirits than deal with the trouble of earning her money honestly by hearing ghosts for real.
  • Matt Damon's character in the Clint Eastwood movie Hereafter can communicate with the dead, and hates everything about it.
  • In Live and Let Die, Solitaire has a supernatural power to infallibly tell fortunes through Tarotnote . However, her powers make her miserable for two reasons — she's become the virtual slave of a Caribbean dictator who forces her to use her predictions to keep him in power, but also since the predictions are a Virgin Power, she cannot be intimate with anyone for fear that she and her lover would be killed by her "employer". She finally rids herself of the power by sleeping with Bond, who is able to kill Kananga and free her.
  • In Push people with psychic powers are hunted down by the government and forced to work for them. The precognitive "Watchers" in the film have a particularly bad case of this: quite apart from the fact that Cassie feels powerless in the face of the persistent visions of her death, Watchers are arguably the most valuable to the government Divisions — as Cassie's mother found out. At present, she's locked up, being kept under a constant flow of sedatives to prevent her from rebelling — to the point that she can't even hold a spoon without assistance.
  • A major theme of Scanners. The telepathy in this film isn't a Puberty Superpower, but an ability that manifests before the scanner is even born, so they're constantly bombarded with other people's thoughts their entire lives and never really get to develop a sense of self. One group of scanners have formed a hippy-like commune where they do a kind of group meditation that seems to keep them relatively emotionally stable, but the majority of scanners are severely maladjusted, miserable people at best, and Diabolical Masterminds at worst, while the movie's scanner hero is practically a robot.
  • The Sixth Sense: That poor kid who could see ghosts all the time...
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once: Jobu Tabaki can see all possible outcomes of every action because she is present in all her alternate selves simultaneously. This has driven her to total nihilism and a desire to destroy the entire universe just to make it stop.

  • Spider Robinson's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon story "Two Heads Are Better Than One". Two brothers have uncontrollable telepathy which makes their lives a living hell.
  • Watercrafters in the Codex Alera series are empaths. Sure, they're Living Lie Detectors, but when they're in an emotionally charged situations they have to work hard to stop other peoples' emotions from leaking over and affecting theirs. At one point, Tavi actually managed to escape a watercrafter who was trying to kill him by deliberately giving in to panic, causing her to freak out from the emotional overload. Said watercrafter is also Ax-Crazy due to the fact that her empathic powers hit her at the same time she was kidnapped, had a magical control collar put on her, and was repeatedly raped.
  • Played with in the Discworld with Mrs. Cake. She is definitely a medium and precognitive but can get splitting headaches when she talks with her precognitive abilities on. The reason: she answers questions before they are asked, but if the other person fails to ask the question, after she just gave the answer, the paradox causes her a serious headache. She is also The Dreaded by all religions on the Disc (and the Post Office for some reason).
  • Frank Herbert's Dune series. Paul Muad'Dib eventually discovers that having prescience is a trap, forcing you into a predetermined path.
  • Flinx, the protagonist of Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth, spends an awful lot of time bemoaning what a problem his emotional telepathy is.
  • While passing through a busy courtyard, Dowager Queen Jehana in The King's Justice catches the thoughts of the assassins who are planning to attack her brother-in-law Nigel. She agonizes over whether or not to warn him (and save his life) since she believes her Deryni powers are evil (and a threat to her soul).
  • The telepathic members of the Kzinti race in Larry Niven's Known Space setting are this in spades. The rest of their race are disgusted by them, as they are usually unkempt and sickly (the Kzinti are a Proud Warrior Race). When they try to read the minds of humans, they (pure carnivores) are forced to experience eating carrots and other disgusting vegetarian thoughts. Whenever they appear in a story, they are shown as miserable creatures.
  • What if you had two gifts, but one destroyed your ability to enjoy the other? In Polar City Blues, Mulligan's a former surefire baseball recruit whose career is derailed by the adolescent blossoming of his psychic gifts. All he wants to do is play baseball, but no team will draft him because they're afraid he'll get banned immediately. He can't hide it because all psychics are branded with a red P to protect other people. And as a Blanco (white man) in a Hispanic-dominated future, he's got no prospects at all. He's still pretty chipper until he thinks about what he's missing out on.
  • The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus:
    • Cyndricka can speak to ghosts and is generally pretty happy about that. She is also homeless (because most living people think she's insane) and mute.
    • The muteness is a psychological response to being rejected by her parents for speaking to ghosts.
  • The Sandleford rabbits expect Fiver to act like this in Watership Down; however, once he's reassured that Hazel is going to do something about his visions of blood and death, Fiver is much calmer and happier. It's most apparent when the rabbits are living on the titular down with no major crises, as many of them consider Fiver to be a source of good level-headed advice.
  • The Happy Medium from A Wrinkle in Time is called that because she refuses to look at sad things in her crystal ball since it affects her so deeply.

    Live-Action TV 
  • When Phoebe of Charmed (1998) first got her empathic powers, she could not control her emotions and shouted out anything that she felt around her. It really annoyed her sisters and caused some very awkward moments at work.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Gwyneth in "The Unquiet Dead" gets used by evil aliens because of her powers.
    • The Doctor himself in "Planet of the Ood", because he can telepathically "hear" the Song of Captivity. It's as depressing as it sounds.
  • To say that River Tam in Firefly is "unhappy" due to her powers is a massive understatement.
  • Allison and her children sometimes feel this way in Medium. For example, as illustrated in "Lucky", Allison can't enter hospitals without getting swarmed by the ghosts of those who've died within, so when her job requires her to go to one, she wears headphones and struggles to avoid looking at the ghosts.
  • Millennium (1996): Frank Black, whose abilities as The Profiler edge into Psychic Powers territory, is often morose. He'd be more so without his family and goes into Heroic BSoD (again) after he's widowed.
  • UFO (1970): One episode has a man being treated for extra-sensory perception. His marriage is shown to be under strain because he knows what his wife's thinking before she says anything, and his psychiatrist says that while other people adapt to their condition and make use of it, he's on the verge of a mental breakdown.
  • Kilgrave from Jessica Jones (2015) tries to act like being a mind controller is a large burden because no one can ever tell him no as part of a near Heel Realization, but Jessica calls him out on it.
  • The title character of the The X-Files episode "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" is blessed with the particularly sucky ability to predict when people will die. He enjoys it just about as much as you'd expect.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Cassandra from Greek Mythology, though not at first. The curse was separate from the prophesy part — she got prophesy as a blessing from Apollo, then pissed him off, so he added on a curse that she'd never be believed.

  • One statement giver in The Magnus Archives has dreams in which he wanders the landscape of his immediate surroundings and sees people who are going to die. It eventually gets so bad that in desperation he lies his way onto an expedition to Point Nemo, reasoning it would be the least likely place he would dream of impending death. Unfortunately for him, the End meant for him to go there, and compelled him into hijacking the research ship and piloting it directly into the path of a crashing satellite, killing everyone on board and finalizing his transformation into an avatar of the End.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Delta Green supplement Countdown, characters with psychic powers are in big trouble. Their information-gathering abilities make it easier for them to see things related to the Cthulhu Mythos, which causes them to lose Sanity (and go insane) even faster than regular investigators.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, most psykers end up being consumed by the Astronomican or the Golden Throne as a sacrifice. Of course, if you're not put in that, you may have your head explode, or turn to chaos, or be possessed by a chaos daemon...

    Video Games 
  • Seems to be the fate of every medium in The Blackwell Series as going around and helping wandering spirits move on to the afterlife ends up being a full-time job that requires them to effectively give up ever having their own lives. Every medium in the series appears to be bitter, resentful, or just plain empty other than the main character, Rosa.
  • Mages in the Dragon Age series can be insanely powerful, but they're also closer to The Fade (astral plane/dream realm) which is clogged with demons just looking for a host or a deal. Because the risk of possession or getting Drunk on the Dark Side is so high, Mages live as virtual prisoners of Church Militant Templars who really love to abuse their power, threatening them with fantastic lobotomies, turning them in to sex slaves, killing them if they even slightly step out of line. But the alternative seems to be letting demon-possessed, Ax-Crazy, Blood Magic wielding run rampant. One mage character is apologizing to The Maker just for existing and another mage flat-wonders why they don't just drown people like him at birth as a more merciful option! Thedas is that kind of world.
  • Alma of the F.E.A.R. games was actually driven completely insane by her sensitivity to other peoples' emotions.
  • Subverted in Final Fantasy XIII-2: Yeul (and later, Serah) possess psychic abilities that force her to view changes up and down the timeline whenever they come into being. Eventually, this results in migraines, fainting and death. But Yeul isn't all that bothered. It's her guardian Caius that's extremely unhappy about this.
  • A milder BioWare example is Dawn Star from Jade Empire who is seen as strange and scares people a little because of her ability to see and talk to spirits. Otherwise, she is one of the nicest people in the party and the Spirit Monk can encourage her to make peace with her abilities. In the same game is Wild Flower, a little girl possessed by two demons. One of them is a big, Lawful Good, shaggy guy she thinks of as her friend. The other torments her and wants to do wicked things, causing her a lot of pain. The Player Character evicts one of the demons in favor of another, and if you choose the tormenting demon, her ending shows that she has gone mad from the torture.
  • Subverted in Touhou Chireiden ~ Subterranean Animism. Satori Komeiji is seemingly ostracized even by the denizens of Former Hell for her power to read minds, and can only get along with animals and animal youkai... but she turns out to have problems with discretion inherent to her species that are apparently actually to blame.
    • Played straight with her younger sister Koishi. She couldn't handle the fear and hatred directed towards her species and attempted to destroy her mind-reading power by closing her third eye.

  • Lily of A Ghost Story is implied to be this.
  • Faen of Drowtales demonstrates the downsides of having empathy, since even though her mother is a powerful empath Faen's own powers aren't well controlled, and make her especially sensitive to demons and other people's pain.
  • Homestuck gives us Sollux, who can hear the wails of the imminently deceased (which presumably has something to do with his generally pessimistic personality; he gets a lot happier after he is blinded and can't hear them anymore) and Aranea, who remarks that her empathic abilities allowed her to feel everything the other characters felt about her, good or bad, which left her feeling isolated and quite lonely.
  • Sluggy Freelance: In "Anima", Troloria is the winner of the great war between psychics, leaving her practically omnipotent after absorbing everyone's souls, but also completely alone. When she finally meets some people, she has a hard time ending her loneliness. She's narcissistic, paranoid, capricious, threatening, and psychic, which means she automatically ends up reading potential hostile intentions in the mind of just about anyone she meets (since they have good reason to fear her) and instantly eliminating them.
  • Issue 7 of Strong Female Protagonist centres around Patrick's past, which Alison learns as part of a Journey to the Center of the Mind. After escaping his mother as a ten-year-old boy, he found that his situation and the nature of his powers lent themselves more to crime than heroics. He reconstructed his mind to remove his need for love and affection, and got out of homelessness by gleaning administrative access to the stock exchange, and, by the time other Biodynamics started to emerge, he had already been accustomed to living as a criminal. From there, he took on the identity of Menace and took the burgeoning villains of the area under his wing.

    Web Original 
  • Imogen Temult from Critical Role's third campaign is a sorcerer with incredible psychic abilities. Unfortunately, one of these abilities is mind-reading, and she has next to no control over whose thoughts she hears, so she must spend a huge amount of mental energy consciously blocking out those thoughts. Not only does her unintended invasion of people's private thoughts make her an outcast in her hometown, the noise of the thoughts of everyone around her gives her severe headaches, and makes being in crowds a miserable experience. Her powers are also accompanied by frequent nightmares, which eventually prove to be somewhat prophetic in nature. More specifically, she has received multiple visions of people who have died. Twice, these dreams have foretold the death of someone close to her. Worst of all, her powers come from an ancient god-eating entity, which threatens to steal away her autonomy if she gives in to the constant draw that she feels from it.
  • The "demon seed" mediums in The Salvation War often went insane from the constant torment from demons taunting them and showing them Hell. Most of the sane ones kept their powers secret, since nobody will want to hear "your relatives are burning in a river of lava for all eternity, and so will you." However, humans find ways to block out the messages and use them to open portals to invade Hell.
  • Stygian in the Whateley Universe was so depressed that only the attention of two dedicated spirits to get him out of bed and eating. He also gets forgiven for his role in the Sim sabotage, which he took part in only so he would get killed.
  • The SCP Foundation has a several of these. One example is a girl who has the ability to see what changes any object she looks at will go through in the future, which she can't turn off. She has to be blindfolded when she eats because she sees the poop that food will soon become.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dragon: Jake Long features two sisters who can see the future. One sees only good things but is constantly glum because she's no longer surprised or happy when the prediction actually happens. The other sees only bad things but is constantly cheery because any moment she's not around misery seems good in comparison.